Pathankot Attack: Nawaz Sharif, Gen Raheel Escape a Nightmare
Nawaz Sharif should respect the trust put on him by two Prime Ministers, Vajpayee and Modi, writes Rajinder Kumar.
The foiling of the 2 January terror attack on the Pathankot air force station by Indian security forces has saved Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his army chief, General Raheel Sharif from a huge crisis. There would have been no brouhaha, either over the sneaking in of terrorists in Pathankot, or the timely counter-terror operation, had the incident not involved Gurdaspur Superintendent of Police Salwinder Singh.
The response to this terrorist action needs to be formulated, keeping in view the implications of a frightening scenario in which six heavily armed Jaish-e-Mohammed operatives had succeeded in destroying IAF fighter planes, helicopters and missiles, besides causing heavy casualty.
The JeM and its controllers in the ISI would have calculated the implications of such a catastrophic action that could have potentially triggered a full-fledged war between India and Pakistan. JeM operatives are highly trained and capable of inflicting massive damage to India’s military and other strategic assets. It is well known that the JeM is a surrogate of the ISI for covert operations, primarily targeting India.
The ISI Connection
Indian security agencies possess intercepts that reveal JeM leaders are under the complete control of the ISI, and their activities and movements are under extensive surveillance of the ISI.
Keeping these variables in mind, it would be very difficult to exonerate either ISI chief General Rizwan Akhtar, or his boss Gen Sharif for their complicity in the acts of terrorism directed against India. My experience working for the Intelligence Bureau says that the Pathankot attack could not have been planned by some major or brigadier heading the particular ISI desk.
The gravity and enormity of the Pathankot attack was no less than the strike on Parliament on 13 December 2001. While the security ring around Parliament thwarted the attack, India launched ‘Operation Parakram’ with the objective of carrying out military strikes against Pakistan. What pulled back our decision makers from starting hostilities was General Pervez Musharraf’s promise of never allowing Pakistani soil from being used by terrorists to launch attacks against India.
Pak Army’s Recklessness
But Musharraf’s successors have not been faithful to that promise. Their recklessness in sponsoring terrorism directed against India is sufficient ground for strong counter-measures against a nuclear-armed, failed state, which has no control over its rogue elements.
Modi’s Lahore Visit
I am in no doubt that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Pakistan policy and his surprise Lahore touchdown has tempered India’s response to the Pathankot attack. The prime minister was left with hardly any option to deliver a befitting response, involving use of force.
He may have stepped back from ordering an adequate response to avoid criticism from the opposition – which would have lost no time in gunning for him over an incoherent and impulsive Pakistan policy – as well as detractors within the BJP.
JeM Terrorists and Their Handlers
- Indian security agencies possess intercepts, revealing that JeM leaders are under the complete control of the ISI.
- Keeping these variables in mind, it would be very difficult to exonerate either ISI chief General Rizwan Akhtar, or his boss Gen Sharif.
- Since the ISI itself has come under a cloud for its suspected role in the Pathankot attack, it should not be involved in any investigative process.
- Modi’s surprise visit to Lahore has tempered down India’s response to the Pathankot attack.
- Modi’s decision to visit Lahore also put Pakistan government under pressure to act against the terrorists to avoid an international backlash.
Nawaz Sharif Too Under Pressure
Modi’s unilateral decision to visit Lahore put Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistani military establishment under tremendous pressure to not resort to the time-tested stratagem of denying involvement, and make a show of acting against the terrorists to avoid an international backlash. He may have given directions to the army and air force for retaliatory strikes, had he not visited Pakistan.
Nawaz Sharif has a special responsibility because two Indian Prime Ministers – AB Vajpayee in the past, and now Modi – trusted him, a trust that he betrayed by not keeping the JeM in check. Mere detention of some JeM leaders, or sealing their offices is cosmetic.
To prove that his intent is honest, Nawaz Sharif must instruct his country’s law enforcement agencies to register criminal cases against errant ISI officers, JeM Chief Maulana Masood Azhar, and other operatives of the terrorist organisation.
Isolate the ISI
Since the ISI itself has come under a cloud for its suspected role in the Pathankot attack, it should not be involved in any investigative process under way in Pakistan. Indian authorities and the security agencies of a few other countries have unimpeachable evidence to show that the ISI not only hindered investigations, but also destroyed evidence related to the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.
The Pakistani Prime Minister must order action that throws up tangible evidence of measures against JeM and other terror organisations, to not just satisfy India, but the international community at large. This alone will reassure the international community of Pakistan’s resolve to fight global terrorism. Just because the terrorists’ plans failed in Pathankot, it should not take away the enormity of their patrons’ mischief.
(The writer is a former Special Director, Intelligence Bureau)
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